Evan Boehm didn’t know how his coach was going to react.
Boehm started 12 games at left guard for the Missouri football team as a true freshman last season, but he wanted more. More responsibility. To be a leader on the Tigers’ offensive line.
So in a meeting with coach Gary Pinkel in the off-season, Boehm suggested a position change.
“I said, ‘Hey, Coach, if you give me the opportunity and you give me the chance, I’m going to be your starting center the next year,'” Boehm recalls. “You could tell it opened his eyes a little bit, but at the same time you could tell he believed in me. That’s huge when you have your head coach behind you like that.”
Boehm admits he struggled with his technique at first, but he has kept working to improve. Now, the 6-foot-3, 315-pounder has proved he can be a dependable anchor for the Tigers’ front five — both now and into the future — and has been one of the bright spots for Mizzou’s 9-1 start.
That offensive line group again will be key going into Saturday’s game at streaking Ole Miss (7-3), which has won four straight games and held Troy to negative-13 yards rushing last week. True freshman defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, a 6-5, 294-pounder, had four tackles, including two for losses, one sack and one quarterback pressure and was named the SEC Defensive Line Player of the Week.
Boehm will see plenty of Nkemdiche on Saturday. Based on his improvement over the course of the season, he should be ready.
“I told Evan the other day he scared me the first two games of the season because he wasn’t playing as well as I thought he was capable of,” offensive coordinator Josh Henson says. “I still think he’s got a lot of improvement, but he has improved tremendously from Game 2 to now here at Game 11.
“He’s really playing a lot better. I think just with experience he’s more comfortable with what we’re asking him to do, but more than anything he’s improved in technique. He’s much more consistent with his steps and his hand placement and his technique and blocking.”
Boehm has started each of his 22 games with the Tigers and, at just 20 years old, he has quickly blended into a group of older players that includes redshirt senior left tackle Justin Britt and redshirt senior left guard Max Copeland.
They accepted the newcomer last year and have helped him grow into his new role.
“That really instilled it in me that they believe in me,” Boehm says. “This year we all know the offense and we all know what we’re doing. You’ve got five different guys from all over the country coming together and collectively doing the same thing at the same time and the same job at the same time. That’s huge.”
Boehm played guard as a freshman in high school before moving to left tackle for his final three seasons. He led Lee’s Summit (Mo.) West High School to a state championship in 2010 and also won state championships in wrestling (heavyweight division) and track and field (discus) before his award-winning prep career was over.
“Evan’s an athlete,” Britt says. “I saw that whenever I was wrestling him in high school. He’s just one of those players who enjoys the spotlight and takes advantage of it. For someone to ask, a true sophomore, to ask to switch to center shows a lot about his characteristics.”
Scout.com rated him as the top center prospect and as the 116th-best prospect in the Class of 2012. He picked the Tigers after receiving scholarship offers from coast to coast. But he wanted to stay home and became one of the key recruits in a class that included five-star wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham and four-star quarterback Maty Mauk.
Then, after a successful debut season that earned him second-team freshman All-American honors from FOX Sports, he asked to take on more.
“The center spot is the leader of the offensive line, and that’s what I want to be,” Boehm says. “I want to be that leader and I want to show everybody that I can be that leader at a young age, as a sophomore. But at the same time it’s pretty cool with the offensive line that we have five leaders right there.”
Boehm hasn’t let down his head coach.
“We have been very pleased, without question,” Pinkel says. “I don’t get the first five minutes of every press conference about our snaps and why we couldn’t fix them. I’ve really missed that part. But he has been really good there.”
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at email@example.com.